Cecil Roberts: Postal Service a lifeline for rural West Virginia

Source: West Virginia Gazette

May 9, 2020


In the midst of the gravest crisis our nation has confronted in decades, it is beyond disappointing to see national political leaders use the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to destroy the United States Postal Service. The refusal by the White House and others in Congress to even consider providing the USPS with the help it desperately needs to survive is a slap in the face to every rural postal customer in America.

If the anti-public Postal Service politicians in Washington get their way, they will put lives at risk and raise costs to millions of rural Americans, including nearly a million people here in West Virginia. And they will put thousands of West Virginians who are employed by the USPS out of work, including hundreds of veterans.

West Virginia is the third-most rural state in the country, with 51% of the population living in rural areas. Rural Americans, who are more elderly and more isolated than those living in urban or suburban areas, count on the reliability and consistent pricing of the USPS for delivery of prescription drugs. During this pandemic, as many pharmacies in rural areas have shut down or drastically reduced hours, it is even more critical that the delivery of life-sustaining prescription drugs continues without disruption or increased costs.

The for-profit delivery companies, whose Washington lobbyists are driving the political attacks on the USPS, already charge more to deliver packages to rural areas than they do to cities and suburbs. The Postal Service, on the other hand, is required to charge the same fee to reliably deliver packages and letters anywhere in the country — and that fee is the only thing keeping the for-profit companies from raising their prices even more.

USPS handled an estimated 55% of the final stretch of Amazon’s deliveries in 2018. Indeed, Amazon, FedEx, UPS and the other delivery corporations rely on the Postal Service to get packages the “last mile” to your door, because they simply do not have the door-to-door network the Postal Service has. That is especially true in rural America.

As a Vietnam veteran, I am especially troubled by the effect wiping out the USPS would have on veterans, both those who work for it and those who rely on it. Rural Appalachian communities have always provided an outsized portion of our sons and daughters to the United States armed forces. When our nation calls, we answer, in higher proportions than other areas of the country.

There are more than 97,000 veterans employed by the Postal Service, or 18% of its entire workforce. That’s almost three times higher than the veterans’ share of the national workforce. And with more than 80% of veterans receiving their prescription drugs by mail, a lot of them living in rural America, the disruption of that critical lifeline becomes a matter of life or death for hundreds of thousands.

The USPS has always funded itself through the sale of stamps and postage. Taxpayer money has never been part of its budget. But because of bone-headed laws passed by Congress years ago that were designed to unfairly drive the Postal Service’s costs up, the USPS is now on the road to failure through no fault of its own. It needs help, and it needs it fast.

Lawmakers should be talking about how to reverse the ridiculous burden they placed on the USPS to pre-fund retirement health care costs for workers who have not even been born yet, not plotting ways to eliminate one of the most reliable and secure services in the history of our nation.

The UMWA stands with our brothers and sisters who work for the United States Postal Service. They are part of our families, they are our neighbors, they are our friends and most importantly they are the vital lifeline so many of our members and retirees need to remain healthy and connected to the world.

There are many urgent actions our government needs to take to preserve our people and our way of life in the current pandemic. Destroying the USPS is not one of them. I strongly urge West Virginia’s congressional delegation to reject the attacks on the public Postal Service and instead work to secure its future. That is the only sensible path forward for all West Virginians.